John Lennon wrote the song in January 1966, with lyrics adapted from the book The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead by Timothy Leary, Richard Alpert, and Ralph Metzner, which in turn was adapted from the Tibetan Book of the Dead. Although Peter Brown believed that Lennon’s source for the lyric was the Tibetan Book of the Dead itself, which, he said, Lennon read whilst consuming LSD, George Harrison later stated that the idea for the lyrics came from Leary’s, Alpert’s and Metzner’s book and McCartney confirmed this, stating that he and Lennon had visited the newly opened Indica bookshop — Lennon was looking for a copy of The Portable Nietzsche— and Lennon had found a copy of The Psychedelic Experience that contained the lines: "When in doubt, relax, turn off your mind, float downstream".
Lennon bought the book, went home, took LSD, and followed the instructions exactly as stated in the book. The book held that the "ego death" experienced under the influence of LSD and other psychedelic drugs is essentially similar to the dying process and requires similar guidance.
"Tomorrow Never Knows" is the final track of The Beatles’ 1966 studio album Revolver but the first to be recorded. Credited as a Lennon/McCartney song, it was written primarily by John Lennon.
The song has a vocal put through a Leslie speaker cabinet (which was normally used as a loudspeaker for a Hammond organ) and uses automatic double tracking (ADT) to double the vocal image. Tape loops prepared by Paul McCartney were mixed in and out of the Indian-inspired modal backing underpinned by Ringo Starr’s constant but non-standard drum pattern. The song is also one of the first uses of a flanger effect on any instrument.
The title never actually appears in the song’s lyrics. In an interview McCartney revealed that, like "A Hard Day’s Night", it was taken from one of Ringo Starr’s malapropisms.The piece was originally titled "Mark I"."The Void" is cited as another working title.
When The Beatles returned to London after their first visit to America in early 1964 they were interviewed by David Coleman of BBC Television. The interview included the following:
• Interviewer: "Now, Ringo, I hear you were manhandled at the Embassy Ball. Is this right?"
• Ringo: "Not really. Someone just cut a bit of my hair, you see."
• Interviewer: "Let’s have a look. You seem to have got plenty left."
• Ringo: (turns head) "Can you see the difference? It’s longer, this side."
• Interviewer: "What happened exactly?"
• Ringo: "I don’t know. I was just talking, having an interview (exaggerated voice). Just like I am NOW!"
• (John and Paul begin lifting locks of his hair, pretending to cut it)
• Ringo: "I was talking away and I looked ’round, and there was about 400 people just smiling. So, you know — what can you say?"
• John: "What can you say?"
• Ringo: "Tomorrow never knows."
Lennon first played the song to Brian Epstein, George Martin and the other Beatles at Epstein’s house at 24 Chapel Street, Belgravia.McCartney remembered that, even though the song’s harmony was mainly restricted to the chord of C, Martin accepted it as it was and said it was "rather interesting". The song’s harmonic structure is derived from Indian music and is based upon a C drone. The "chord" over the drone is generally C major, with some changes to B flat major.
The 19-year-old Geoff Emerick was promoted to replace Norman Smith as engineer on the first session for the Revolver album. This started at 8 p.m. on 6 April 1966, in Studio Three at Abbey Road. Lennon told producer Martin that he wanted to sound like a hundred chanting Tibetan monks, which left Martin the difficult task of trying to find the effect by using the basic equipment they had. Lennon’s suggestion was that he be suspended from a rope and—after being given a good push—he would sing as he spun around the microphone. This idea was rejected by Martin, but when asked by Lennon about it, he would only reply with, "We’re looking into it."Emerick finally came up with the idea of wiring Lennon’s vocal through a Leslie rotating speaker, thus obtaining the desired effect without the need of a rope. Emerick made a connector to break into the electronic circuitry of the cabinet and then re-recorded the vocal as it came out of the revolving speaker.
As Lennon hated doing a second take to double his vocals, Ken Townsend, the studio technical manager, created the first ADT system, taking the signal from the playback and recording heads and delaying them slightly. By altering the speed and frequencies he could create various effects, which The Beatles used throughout the recording of Revolver. Lennon’s vocal was clearly double-tracked on the first three verses of the song: the effect of the Leslie cabinet can be heard after the (backwards) guitar solo.
The track included the highly compressed drums that The Beatles currently favoured, with reverse cymbals, reverse guitar, processed vocals, looped tape effects, a sitar and a tambura drone.McCartney supplied a bag of ¼ inch audio tape loops he had made at home after listening to Stockhausen’s Gesang der Jünglinge. By disabling the erase head of a tape recorder and then spooling a continuous loop of tape through the machine while recording, the tape would constantly overdub itself, creating a saturation effect, a technique also used in musique concrète. The tape could also be induced to go faster and slower. McCartney encouraged the other Beatles to use the same effects and create their own loops.
The numerous tapes McCartney supplied were played on five individual BTR3 tape machines, and controlled by EMI technicians in studio two at Abbey Road on 7 April.The four Beatles controlled the faders of each machine while Martin varied the stereo panning. The tapes were made (like most of the other loops) by superimposition and acceleration (0:07) Martin explained that the finished mix of the tape loops could never be repeated because of the complex and random way in which they were laid over the music.
The opening chord fades in gradually on the stereo version while the mono version features a more sudden fade-in.
ABOUT THE ARTIST
Lee Wells is an artist, independent curator and consultant currently living and working New York. His projects primarily question systems of power and control and have been exhibited internationally for over 15 years, including the 51 st La Biennale Di Venezia, National Center for Contemporary Art Moscow, Kimpo/Seoul International Airport, WRO07 XII Media Biennial, PS1/MoMA, and The State Hermitage Museum, in addition to numerous art fairs, festivals and galleries. He is a co-founder and director of IFAC-arts, an alternative nomadic curitorial program and a co-founder of [PAM] the Perpetual Art Machine. His projects and exhibitions have been written about by various national and international art and news publications to include: The New York Times, Art Newspaper, Art in America, Artchronika, and Art Net. Most recently, Wells was commissioned by the Guggenheim Museum to write on video art and the 21st century avant-garde. Wells most recently has a solo exhibitions at Rooster Gallery in New York and PAIDA in Bremen, Germany. Please see: www.leewells.org